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Make Backspace in Windows 7 or Vista Explorer Go Up like XP Did

One of the biggest annoyances for those going straight from XP to Windows 7 is that the backspace key no longer moves you Up a folder like it used to—now it moves you Back in the folder browsing history.

If you’ve used the key a couple of times, you might think I’m wrong—but you can easily test it out by going into one subfolder, then hitting Back, then going into another subfolder and hitting Back, then going into a third subfolder and hitting Back twice. You’ll end up in the previous subfolder.

image

If you want to go Up a folder in either Windows 7 or Vista, you can use the Alt+Up shortcut key, which will always go to the parent folder.

The Awesome AutoHotkey Fix

Now that we know the shortcut key that actually works in Windows 7, we can use a small script to make it work the way we really want it to. With AutoHotkey installed, create a new script with New –> AutoHotkey Script, and then paste in the following:

#IfWinActive, ahk_class CabinetWClass
Backspace::
   ControlGet renamestatus,Visible,,Edit1,A
   ControlGetFocus focussed, A
   if(renamestatus!=1&&(focussed=”DirectUIHWND3″||focussed=SysTreeView321))
   {
    SendInput {Alt Down}{Up}{Alt Up}
  }else{
      Send {Backspace}
  }
#IfWinActive

Thanks for finding this method goes to joeshmoo from the Productive Geek Forums, who tracked it down buried in an AutoHotkey forum thread. We modified the script slightly to make it work for Windows 7.

How Does This Work?

Ordinarily you can simply re-map the key with a Backspace::!{Up} type of deal, but since the backspace key is useful in the search box, location bar, and when you’re renaming files, you can’t just do a simple mapping—instead you have to check to see which control is active before sending the alternate Alt+Up key combination.

The first line with the #IfWinActive tells AHK to only activate this shortcut key override if Windows Explorer is the active window, which helps fix any possible conflicts in other applications.

The ControlGet and ControlGetFocus lines do the actual work of checking the status of the controls, and then depending on whether they are focused or you are in the process of renaming a file, it either sends the alternate Alt+Up or just sends the regular Backspace key.

Download a Pre-Made Application to Make Backspace Work like XP

Since the majority of you probably aren’t familiar with AutoHotkey, and don’t have any interest in how the scripts work, I’ve put together a customized version of the script as a tiny little executable that will run in the background.

It doesn’t take a ton of memory, as you can see in the screenshot.

image

To install HTGBack, just download, extract, and then create a shortcut in the shell:startup folder:

image

Double-click on the executable, and your Backspace key should start working like it used to in XP. Note that we only tested this on Windows 7, but assume it will work for Vista as well.

Download HTGBack XP-Style Backspace Key

This utility is licensed under the don’t-be-stupid license, which says that you can use it, distribute it, and pretty much do whatever you feel like with it—just give us credit by linking back to this post.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/11/10

Comments (39)

  1. Aashish

    Thanks, I was looking for it

  2. jj128

    That’s awesome! I’m glad you put together the application, should help a lot of people that don’t know how to use AHK. I guess my question turned into something useful.

  3. The Geek

    @jj128

    Yeah, I was glad when you posted that topic on the PG forum, definitely something I’ve wanted to figure out for a while.

  4. Adrian

    DON’T DO IT!
    Just learn the new hot key.

    Just about every version of windows has new keys/menus. I know of people that still don’t know the difference between XP’s start menu and 2000s because they took the option to go back…..

  5. rsvr85

    Great tip, thanks! :)

  6. rsvr85

    If you opt for the executable in the startup folder it might be worth right clicking the .exe > Properties > Unblock;
    This will prevent the .exe asking for permission to run on each startup.

  7. simon

    Backspace was back on XP Pro too… Having it go up a directory is just bonkers. :P

  8. Realitizer

    @Geek – Is it possible to use the Windows key in a key combo? I’ve tried a couple of times in AutoIt with no success. Just that WIN C would be a really good combo for launching the calculator.

  9. Dan F

    What’s bonkers is how Win7 behaves differently if you’ve got the tree or the file list focused. It might have always been like this, but something from the dim dark memory tells me it wasn’t.

    With the tree selected, backspace goes up a level (but doesn’t change the contents of the list anymore, yay!).
    With the file list selected, it goes back in history, boo hiss.

    Oddness.

  10. Paul

    Might want to replace the curly quotation marks in the code snippet with standard double quotes so it actually works :)

    ”DirectUIHWND3″ ==> “DirectUIHWND3″

    #IfWinActive, ahk_class CabinetWClass
    Backspace::
    ControlGet renamestatus,Visible,,Edit1,A
    ControlGetFocus focussed, A
    if(renamestatus!=1&&(focussed=”DirectUIHWND3″||focussed=SysTreeView321))
    {
    SendInput {Alt Down}{Up}{Alt Up}
    }else{
    Send {Backspace}
    }
    #IfWinActive

  11. Tom

    Sadly does not work in vista.

  12. Stefan

    Thanks!!!
    I started hating Microsoft even more when they changed this behavior. Really stupid!

  13. Mark

    @Paul

    Thanks for the tip. That fixed it for me.

  14. bearlog

    I find it annoying that in XP the backspace key doesn’t go back in history.

  15. krhainos

    I found the script above doesn’t work in Windows Vista because the folderpane is called “SysListView321″ (versus “DirectUIHDWND3″ in Windows 7). The treeview however is called SysTreeView321 in both Vista and 7.

    So the if statement should look like the following:

    if(renamestatus!=1 && (focussed=”DirectUIHWND3″ || focussed=”SysListView321″ || focussed=”SysTreeView321″ ))

    Stay awesome,

    -K

  16. JY

    Thanks!! It was what I needed to really start and forget about XP :-)

  17. Hiro

    Thanks so much, I was looking for it.

  18. marcel_miller

    Autohotkeys Rocks!

  19. Blaster

    AWESOME!! Just AWESOME!!
    It was very annoying for me and now it’s fixed! Thank You so much!

  20. Toban

    I added this script to my ahk file, but the problem is that it would also run the next hotkey after it. To fix this, I added another line at the end: Return

  21. Tsukasa

    Thanks a lot! Very useful, since my hand is a bit too small to hit L-alt and Up simultaneously.
    At first it didn’t work for me (win7 pro x64), so I removed the “view” conditions from the if argument:

    if(renamestatus!=1)

    Works perfectly for me, in any view mode.

  22. Jacques

    Thanx, was just about to write my own autohotkey script when I found this.
    However, this doesn’t quite solve my problem as I am permanently running another application that uses the Alt+Up hot key and I don’t want to change that.
    So I want to find out how to remap the “up” functionality to another key.

  23. Jacques

    OK, I managed to solve my problem.
    My other app that uses the ALT+Up key combo also has a passthrough key combo that tells it to ignore the following key combo.
    So I just modified the script to check if that app is active, and if it is, I just send the passthrough command before the ALT+Up, and then it all works great. Thanx much.

  24. Craig

    Hurray! Thanks to everyone and Paul for catching the curly quote fix.

    And to those of you who say “DON’T DO IT — learn the new hot keys”…. Yes, you’re right. But, there’s gotta be something said for standards. Would you like the gas and brake pedals to be switched every few years? or 50/60Hz power? Or the microphone and speaker orientation on your cell phone? Why should keyboard shortcuts be any different?

  25. Spacer

    Thank you! Too usefull!

  26. Carlos

    Hey there, thanks for taking the time to help us all.
    I have installed AHK, added the script and worked perfectly but I usually try to keep as less proceses as posible and having AHK just to “go up” bugged me so I am down for getting used to ALT+UP, which obviously isn’t as handy as backspace but it’ll do.

    @Craig: Man, there are situations where standards are needed and situations where “customizable” would be the best approach. I agree with Adrian that you should learn the new combos as in “don’t close yourself to what you’ve got/know” but I believe you should be able to customize the way you work with apps.

  27. Brandon M. Sergent

    I use autohotkey already so that’s not my problem, but does it not strike anyone as silly that there isn’t a reg fix or something for this?

    A separate app just for this?? Madness.

  28. 1029

    Yo no he tenido ningún problema para subir a la carpeta anterior con la tecla retroceso. Tengo Windows 7 Home Premión SP1.

  29. Luca

    I just had my loved XP PC crash and burn, and minutes after booting 7 I was already frustrated. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  30. Charlie

    it does appear Microsoft doesnt use Windows otherwise they wouldnt have ditched it…. either that or they fired all their old employees. mmmm china….

    look for classic shell
    http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/
    it restores this and a whole lot more, not sure about overhead but its handy.

  31. Daniel

    Awesome! This was a huge annoyance. Thanks :)

  32. Daniel

    +1 Craig

  33. Charlie

    woops – classic shell only does the up icon, not the backspace key…

  34. goofyballs

    Great, works like a champ.

    Do you have a script for turning the tilde ~ key into an Enter/Return button for left side of keyboard?

    All I need to do is have the ~ key act as Enter/Return key for my left hand

  35. Geek In Sardinia

    I’m loving it!

  36. mark99k

    So happy to find this!! I’m tired of all the sweating we go through every time Microsoft yanks away something we’ve depended on (while also keeping stuff they know is buggy or evil). It’s nice to know someone out there feels our pain & takes the time to create & distributes the right salve for it.

  37. Erik

    So has anyone figured out a script to make the left and right arrow buttons behave the way that they did in XP? I hate the fact when you’re in explorer and go to a subdirectory, you have to hit the spacebar now to see what’s in the folder.

  38. Nico

    Very, very usefull. Thanks a lot! I know AHK, but finding that out is quite a bit of work.

  39. Babar

    Thanks, I was looking for it

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